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Pulaski voters get ready to vote on $40 million middle school decision

If passed, the school would be funded by the largest tax hike in county history

PULASKI COUNTY, Va. – In one week, voters in Pulaski County will make a more than $40 million decision.

A ballot referendum will decide whether the county builds a new middle school. People in favor of the plan say the school is desperately needed to replace the two existing middle schools falling into disrepair, but funding it would require the largest tax increase in county history. That's something many people are hoping to avoid.

"We cannot provide a solid educational experience... for the middle school students in Pulaski County in our current facilities," Pulaski County Superintendent Kevin Siers said.

Tuesday afternoon, Siers allowed WSLS to get footage of the cracked walls and water-damaged ceilings in Pulaski Middle.

"We currently lose out to primarily Montgomery County and Radford to a degree because of the quality of our middle school buildings," Siers said.

School buildings that at the moment are supported by metal beams to keep them from collapsing, but some in the county are concerned about the more than $40 million price tag on a new building.

"If this referendum passes, this will be the largest tax hike in county history, probably by a factor of two," supervisor board chair Andy McCready said.

McCready said he's already heard from taxpayers on the issue. One of those was Gale Grantham.

"If we tie all of our money from the county board of supervisors up on the school, we've got 20 years probably before we can renovate anything," Grantham said.

So McCready said supervisors came up with a compromise.

"The school board has a proposal now that the board of supervisors paid for. It's to make $9 million improvements to the two middle schools. That would replace the windows, put heating and air conditioning in it. That would remove asbestos, put some new lighting in the hallways," McCready said.

McCready said that will likely be the solution if the ballot referendum doesn't pass, and would require only a 2 cent property tax increase instead of more than 9 cents. But Siers said, with rooms in the schools that can't even be used due to damage, it's not enough.

"That would just be a really inadequate amount of money to do the type of changes that we need to make our middle school programs competitive," Siers said.

Siers believes the new school would also be a better long term investment, but Grantham and others argue the new tax could hit older people on a fixed income the hardest. The decision will be made at the ballot box next Tuesday.